New plan to defund ObamaCare: Filibuster the House bill that ... defunds ObamaCare

I thought I misread this at first, but no, apparently that’s the plan. Having convinced the House to bite the bullet and pass a CR that defunds O-Care, the Cruz/Lee “defund” contingent in the Senate now has no choice but to filibuster it. As David Freddoso, an opponent of the Cruz strategy, puts it, “You need to prevent a vote on defunding Obamacare in order to defund Obamacare.” Here’s what Cruz said about it this morning:

“But the House was just step one. Step two is the Senate, where all accounts suggest Harry Reid plans to use procedural gimmicks to try to add funding back in for Obamacare.

“If Reid pursues this plan — if he insists on using a 50-vote threshold to fund Obamacare with a partisan vote of only Democrats — then I hope that every Senate Republican will stand together and oppose cloture on the bill in order to keep the House bill intact and not let Harry Reid add Obamacare funding back in.

“Now is a time for party unity; Senate Republicans should stand side-by-side with courageous House Republicans.

The Senate Conservatives Fund supports a filibuster too:

“Harry Reid needs 60 votes to approve his plan to fund Obamacare. If 41 Republicans stand strong and oppose cloture, they can defeat Reid’s plan to fund Obamacare. However, if Republicans waffle and vote for cloture, it will grease the skids for Reid’s plan to fund Obamacare. It’s pretty simple — any Republican who votes for cloture is voting to fund Obamacare.

I.e. any Republican who votes to bring the House’s defunding bill to the Senate floor is actually voting to fund ObamaCare. That’s the messaging that “defund” supporters are stuck with right now.

Everyone understand why Cruz has been forced into this position? It goes back to the procedural quirk that Byron York wrote about last night and that I excerpted at length this morning. When Reid first introduces the House’s “defund” CR, it’ll face a cloture vote on whether to proceed to a debate about it. That requires 60 votes, but that should be no problem. Republicans will vote yes because they support defunding O-Care and Democrats will vote yes because they know it’s a necessary step to passing their own “clean” CR that includes funding for the law. Once that vote is over, though, Reid can strip out the “defunding” part of the House bill and then pass the new “clean” CR with simple majority votes. Thus, the only opportunity the Cruz/Lee contingent will have to stop Democrats from passing their own CR is by opposing the initial cloture vote on the House bill — even though that puts them in the singularly unusual position of trying to block a measure that was passed by their own party, which they themselves cheered all the way through passage in the other chamber.

Now, serious question: Why would Reid care whether the House bill is filibustered? We’re headed for deadlock here between the House and Senate one way or another. If Dems succeed in invoking cloture on the House bill and then strip out the O-Care funding, just as everyone expects will happen, then the ball is back in Boehner’s court. Either he can hold firm for awhile and risk a shutdown or he can cave and pass Reid’s “clean” CR. If, on the other hand, Cruz and Lee succeed in filibustering the House bill, then the Senate will pass nothing and … we’ll still be facing a shutdown. Except now, instead of simply blaming Republicans for it, Democrats will add the curious detail that Republicans in the Senate ended up blocking their own party’s bill in order to make it happen. Even worse, a successful filibuster would mean that red-state Dems like Landrieu and Begich who are up for reelection wouldn’t have to take a very tough vote in favor of funding ObamaCare as part of their party’s “clean” CR. If you’re going to go to the mat and shut down the government over ObamaCare, at least make vulnerable incumbents from the other party sweat through it.

The virtue of the filibuster from the “defund” standpoint is, I guess, that it would take the decision on whether to cave out of Boehner’s hands and put it in the hands of Senate Republicans, who include the most ardent “defund” backers like Cruz and Lee. But that assumes that 41 of them would stick together to extend the shutdown indefinitely, which they surely wouldn’t. In fact, they almost certainly won’t get 41 even for the initial filibuster attempt, when Reid first brings the House bill to the floor. Shutdown skeptics like Coburn and McCain have lots of political cover to vote for cloture now: By voting against a filibuster, they can say that they voted to bring a bill that would have defunded ObamaCare to the floor. They’d rather have this in Boehner’s hands than Cruz’s. And Cruz, of course, understands all of this. He’s under no illusions that the filibuster idea will succeed. I think his pushing for it is aimed mainly at his critics in the House who’ve been grousing that he expects them to do the heavy lifting on his “defund” scheme. Fine, Cruz seems to be saying; if they want me to be the main obstacle to a “clean” CR rather than John Boehner, I’ll try to block it in the Senate even if it means doing something as awkward as filibustering a House bill I support. But it’ll fail and he knows it, and Boehner will be back on the hot seat soon enough. What he’s doing here is simply showing that he’s willing to take some heat himself before Reid’s scheme succeeds and the spotlight shifts back to the House.

Here he is yesterday vowing to use every procedural measure he could to block O-Care. He wasn’t kidding.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on March 31, 2023